Donald Paul Irish

Irish—Donald Paul Irish, 97, on April 14, 2017, in Saint Paul, Minn. Don was born on July 31, 1919, in Oak Park, Ill., the second of Stella Putnam and Willis Irish’s four children. He grew up in Glen Ellyn, Ill., as a Methodist and began to follow Gandhi’s teachings in college, earning degrees from University of Colorado and George Williams College and a doctorate from University of Washington. He studied the sociology of war, anti-Japanese-American sentiment during World War II, culture and race differences in the United States, death and dying, and Latin American sociology. In 1940, he joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Registered as a conscientious objector, he was never called to serve, but he worked with youth in Chicago and at an American Youth Hostel Camp in New Hampshire.

In 1942 he married another active Methodist, Betty Osborn. They encountered Friends when they visited Northeast American Friends Service Committee offices and Seattle (Wash.) Meeting. He said, “We found the Quaker milieu more stimulating, more committed for action regarding their deep concerns, more adventurous.” They belonged to Seattle Meeting from 1952 until they moved to North Carolina in 1959 and transferred membership to Chapel Hill (N.C.) Meeting. In 1963 they moved to Saint Paul, Minn., where he taught sociology at Hamline University, and he and Betty joined Twin Cities Meeting in Saint Paul. A voice of conscience in the meeting, he served as clerk and was an enthusiastic member of the Peace and Social Action Committee.

In 1976 he gave the Rufus Jones Lecture in Chapel Hill on the topic “Awareness of Death: Preparation for Living.” He encouraged peace actions, including war tax resistance, for which he drafted a minute that Twin Cities and Minneapolis (Minn.) Meetings approved in 1983. Betty died in 1985, and he retired from Hamline. He was a member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, served in 1987 with Peace Brigades International in Guatemala and Witness for Peace in Nicaragua, and observed elections in Nicaragua in 1990.

He married Marjorie Sibley in 1990. In the mid-1990s, he helped the Friends School of Minnesota Committee find and acquire its present location, contributing financially, helping paint the building, and naming the school’s Gandhi Library. He supported the school in many quiet, essential ways, speaking to the older students about what it means to be a Quaker and showing a special concern for the families of children facing death, donating to the school his books on Quakers and on death and dying. It was fitting that his memorial meeting was held at Friends School.

In his last lecture given at Hamline University in 2009, he encouraged commitment, living our values, and not giving up hope, saying “Let’s get the peace bus and parade back on the right fork in the road!” He walked for miles and was often seen in different parts of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, catching a bus. He never stopped sending his many friends weekly packets of newspaper clippings about relevant political issues, often with notes of friendship and good wishes.

Don was widowed by Betty Osborn Irish in 1985 and by Marjorie Sibley in 2003. He is survived by his children, Terry Irish, Gail Irish (Steven Budas), and Sharon Irish (Reed Larson); Marjorie’s children, Muriel Sibley and Martin Sibley (Ilona Popper); and three grandchildren.


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